WASHINGTON -- The Army has struggled to build its comfort level in buying commercial off-the-shelf products, often arguing too much has to be changed to meet military standards, and the service is up against having to work contracts through a sluggish acquisition process for which commercial industry doesn't have the patience.
"There is more work to be done" in bridging the relationship between the Defense Department and the commercial technology industry, Army Secretary Eric Fanning said Thursday at the Defense One conference in Washington.
While Fanning's tenure as Army secretary likely will be short -- he was confirmed in the spring and is expected to depart when President Barack Obama leaves the White House -- helping to build relationships with commercial technology industry was going to be "a real focus" of his, he said.
A major court ruling handed down at the end of last month highlighted the struggling relationship between the Army and fast-paced technology firms. Palo Alto, CA-based Palantir sued the Army in the US Court of Federal Claims for not giving commercial off-the-shelf technology fair consideration in the procurement of the next iteration of the service's intelligence analysis framework -- the Distributed Common Ground System-Army (DCGS-A).
Palantir claimed the Army didn’t follow a 1994 law that requires government agencies to thoroughly consider if there is a commercial solution that could fulfill requirements or be modified to fulfill requirements when making a procurement decision. The Army, without conducting a full survey of commercial products, decided to proceed with a procurement strategy to develop a solution using a lead integrator instead.
The judge ruled in favor of Palantir and the Army must now go back and conduct a more thorough analysis of commercial products that could fulfill the requirements needed for the DCGS-A program.
But while the court decision appears to be a loss for the Army, and Fanning wouldn’t comment specifically on the case, he said: "I hope to use it and all other cases as a learning opportunity for how can we do things differently because I do think in some ways we are speaking different languages right now and we need to figure out how to collaborate better."
Fanning said while he anticipates taking a vacation somewhere warm come January -- as opposed to being asked to stay in the Pentagon when President-elect Donald Trump’s administration takes over -- he said he hoped some of the ground work he has laid to foster more agile, rapid and open adoption of capabilities and delivery to soldiers will stick.
The Army secretary in August launched the Rapid Capabilities Office, intended to focus on the service’s highest requirements and field solutions within one to five years -- either by re-purposing existing equipment or teaming up with industry for quick projects. The RCO has already hit the ground running and intends to finalize a complete charter along with recommended projects and programs within the electronic warfare, position navigation and timing and cyber capability areas, along with suggestions on ways to move forward this month, well in advance of the presidential changing of the guard.